If there is a universal truth about stretching, it is that we should all do it. However, few of us do. Fitness experts say this is the part of a workout that most people tend to ignore. This can make a difference in the way your muscles respond to exercise. Stretching warms up the muscles and the hot muscles are more flexible.
Here is an overview of some truths and lies about stretching.
Common beliefs about stretching
- The best time to stretch is after exercise, when your muscles are warm.
True and false: it is safer to stretch a hot muscle, and hot muscles are more relaxed and have a greater range of motion. However, walking or running quickly for five minutes, until you sweat a little, is warm enough to stretch. In a perfect world, you stretch for a few minutes during and after your workout.
- There is only one “correct” way to stretch.
False: In fact, there are half a dozen or more stretches. Some of the most common ones are listed below.
Stretch a specific muscle until you feel tension and hold the position for 15 to 60 seconds. This is considered to be the safest form of stretching: done with care, it gives muscles and connective tissue time to “redefine” the stretching reflex.
Isolated active stretching (AI)
Stretch a specific muscle until you feel tension, then hold the position for a second or two. Often, you must use a rope or your hands to bring a muscle to the point of stretching. Since it does not force the muscle to contract, the muscle you are working on remains relaxed. However, critics warn of the risk of excessive stretching, especially if a rope is used.
Stretching of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
Contract a muscle, release it and then stretch it, usually with the help of a partner who “pushes” the stretch. Although the PNF can be very effective, it can also be dangerous if done improperly. Continue alone, under the supervision of a physical therapist or trainer.
Ballistic or dynamic stretching.
Move slowly to a stretched position and then return when you are there. This is what many people have learned in the gym, but now most experts agree that this method is dangerous because it puts a lot of pressure on muscles and connective tissues.
- Stretching should be uncomfortable.
False: In fact, if the stretches are painful, you are going too far. Instead, stretch and stop when you feel tension. Breathe deeply, keeping the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Then, relax and repeat the stretch, trying to advance a little more during the second stretch.
- You must maintain a stretch for at least 15 seconds.
Truth: Most experts now agree that maintaining a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds is sufficient.
Do you have medical questions? Connect with an experienced and certified doctor online or over the phone. Pediatricians and other specialists available 24/7.
The beginner stretches
Height stretch (for shoulders, neck and back)
Stand, shoulder-width apart, knees and hips relaxed. Interlace your fingers and extend your arms over your head, palms up. Take 10 slow, deep breaths, stretching the stretch with each exhalation. Relax and repeat again.
Trunk stretching (in the lower back)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees bent. With your hands on your lower back, tilt your pelvis forward while pointing your tailbone slightly backwards; feel the stretch in your lower back. Pull your shoulders back. Hold for 10 deep breaths; repeat again.
Cat and cow stretch
Kneel with your hands directly under your shoulders, your back flat and your fingers pointing back. Tighten your abdominal muscles, arch your back and lower your head to look at your stomach. Hold for 10 seconds, breathing deeply. Now lower your back until you swing, simultaneously lifting your head. Hold for 10 seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat four times.